NSW town given a fresh start following devastating fires

One year ago fires blazed across many parts of Australia, wreaking havoc and causing unfathomable devastation.

One of the hardest hit areas was the Southern Highlands in New South Wales.

The Green Wattle Creek fire that tore through the area burned in excess of 270,000 hectares of land, devastating quiet rural neighborhoods including Balmoral, Bargo and Buxton.

Sadly, two members of the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade lost their lives trying to stop the Green Wattle Creek fire in Buxton.

To honour their service and bravery, the township raised enough money to build a commemorative children’s playground.

The playground resembles a fire truck and is modelled off the same truck that was used to help extinguish the Green Wattle Creek fire.

Through its Bushfire Recovery Grants program, Commonwealth Bank donated $45,000 to the Buxton Rural Fire Brigade to help build the memorial playground.

Kim Hill, a member of the Buxton Fire Brigade and co-ordinator of the memorial playground, said Commonwealth Bank’s donation had helped build the playground as a fitting tribute to those men who had sacrificed their lives during the last bushfire season.

“The community wanted to pay tribute to Rural Fire Service volunteers, Mr Andrew O’Dwyer and Mr Geoffrey Keaton, of Horsley Park Brigade, who tragically lost their lives in Buxton on 19 December 2019 in their efforts to protect the community from the Green Wattle Creek Bushfire,” she said.

“The idea of a ‘Fire Truck Playground’ was put forward by Krystal Foster, a member of the Buxton Community, and we felt this was a very fitting tribute. It will also provide the local community with a place of reflection which will help in their own healing.

“We cannot thank CommBank enough for their funding that has made this project possible. We are very much looking forward to providing the Keaton and O’Dwyer families with somewhere to visit and remember their loved ones.”

The memorial playground was officially opened to the public last weekend. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and NSW Commissioner of Resilience Shane Fitzsimmons, were on hand to officiate the playground unveiling.

Commonwealth Bank’s Group Customer Advocate and Chair of the Bushfire Recovery Grants Advisory Committee, Angela MacMillan, said the bank was proud to be able to help the Buxton community construct its memorial playground.

“The story of the Green Wattle Creek fire is a tragic one. But, the way the community has rallied around each other and come together to create such a wonderful space is beautiful to see,” she said.

“The Buxton Memorial Playground is the perfect place for the community and Andrew and Geoffrey’s families to come together, recognise the tremendous sacrifice these men have made, and hopefully create new memories.”

Pleasingly, Ms MacMillan said the story of Buxton wasn’t unique. Many fire-impacted communities across Australia had spent the last 12 months rebuilding and recovering, and were now starting to see the positive impacts of these efforts.

“I have met many Australians across NSW and beyond who had their lives turned upside down as a consequence of last year’s bushfire season – either through the loss of their homes, their businesses, their schools and things like their sporting clubs,” she said.

“At Commonwealth Bank, we are committed to supporting the communities in which we serve, and the 2020 Bushfire Recovery Grants program is just one of the ways we are showing that support.”

This year, the bank has provided 213 grants (valued up to $50,000 each) to various community organisations across Australia that have been impacted by the 2019/2020 bushfires.

In addition, the bank and its customers have donated in excess of $4 million to the Australian Red Cross, and raised over $350,000 via the ‘Fiver4Fires’ National Staff Fundraising Day.

“We want to be able to help these communities to rebuild and recover following the devastating bushfires. Through our Bushfire Recovery Grants Program and various fundraising efforts, the bank has donated more than $10 million to fire-impacted communities across Australia,” Ms MacMillan said.

“And I am so proud that we have been able to give people, like the Buxton community, a much needed boost after the horror year that has been 2020.”

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